There was no need for Democrat Adam Edelen to share the spotlight at the Black Votes Matter forum in Louisville Thursday because none of the other major candidates for governor showed up.
The event was hosted by Simmons College, a historically black college, and questions focused on how to promote wealth and resources in black communities, reform the criminal justice system and improve public education.
Leaders at Simmons College said that Democratic candidates Andy Beshear and Rocky Adkins couldn’t attend because of prior engagements.
Edelen criticized Beshear and Adkins for not showing up.
“They’re not so much robbing you the opportunity to hear from them because everybody here’s got a television, but they rob themselves of the opportunity to enrich themselves as leaders by listening to people who know their experience better than they do,” Edelen said.
Simmons President Kevin Cosby said that the other candidates would get a “mulligan” for not showing up.
Edelen is one of four Democrats running for governor in Kentucky along with Attorney General Andy Beshear, longtime state Rep. Rocky Adkins and retired state engineer Geoff Young. Young attended the forum but said he wasn’t invited to speak.
Richard Brown, president of student government association at Simmons, said that candidates need to “walk in the shoes” of the black community.
“We need elected officials to gain a better perspective on what it means to be black in our state and our nation. This can only be done if candidates come to the black community and diligently seek our thoughts and opinions,” Brown said.
During the forum, Edelen pushed issues like expanding access to broadband internet to poor communities across the state, establishing a black-owned bank in west Louisville and working to eliminate food deserts.
He also said that the pool of public workers like teachers, police officers and public officials need to be more diverse.
“The clearest form of systemic racism in our society as it exists today is the number of African American children who are in special education who have no business being in special education,” Edelen said.
Edelen also advocated for criminal justice reform measures like overhauling the state’s cash bail system, restoring voting rights to people who have felony convictions in Kentucky.
He said that if the legislature doesn’t restore voting rights to people who have finished their time for felony convictions, he would do so by executive order.
A representative from Beshear’s campaign read a statement apologizing for his absence, saying that he was committed to lifting up Kentucky’s black community.
Adkins said he was attending a memorial commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. elsewhere in west Louisville.
Disclosure: Edelen’s running mate, Gill Holland, is a member of Louisville Public Media’s board of directors. Per LPM policy, he is on leave from the board for the entirety of the campaign.